Amnesty will be granted this week to thousands of federal employees who are risking reprimand and punishment for smuggling outlawed electric devices into government offices, from the Pentagon to the CIA.
U.S. officials have decided that too many well-meaning bureaucrats have broken rules for them to be effectively enforced. Some federal guards have complained about being required to search offices. Some have turned a blind eye while employees sneak the instruments into offices. Some high-level officials are openly using the devices, which are technically banned from government property.
We are talking about fans. Electric fans like you bring from home or the drug store.
The problem is that the upper reaches of government - such as the White House and at the cabinet level - are in a bit of turmoil. This is because the U.S. establishment is passing from one energy-conservation policy to a brand-new energy conservation policy. Although it has been some time since President Carter set the nation's thermostats at 78, and our hot-water heaters at luke-warm, it takes time for the government to adjust.
Most agencies have been observing the new 78 degree cooling limit, as well as it can be observed. Despite new regulations from the Department of Energy, restoring the fan to its rightful place, the official word has trickled down that bad fans are now good fans.
In case you didn't know, President Carter does not run the entire government. Neither does Secretary whoever-it-may-be of Energy. Once you step inside a federal building, buddy, you are in the hands of the General Services Administration. GSA to its friends.
GSA is the government's procurement office, its housecleaning crew, its telephone system. GSA supplies guards at many federal sites, leases buildings and has walls painted, locks repaired and rats removed when necessary. It also controls thermostats in most agencies and, more importantly, thermostat policy.
Well, despite DOE and the White House, General Services Administration rules (as of business Friday) were that no private fans are allowed in government buildings. None. No way.
GSA - acting on earlier White House and congressional energy-saving programs - also bans the use of personal heaters in federal offices. (More on that this February.)
Federal officials say they realize the situation may appear dumb. Things like that often happen when a president or congress says something complicated. Like keep buildings in summer from being cooled lower than 78 degrees.
GSA brass expect their regulations will be revised, probably this week, to decriminalize fans. They agree it makes sense, but until the rules are changed by the Office of Fan Policy, or whatever, the fan ban stands.
Federal officials say that several weeks ago guards and building managers were making daring raids on offices, often catching bunches of federal workers - looking like Soviet dissidents around an illegal radio - catching some illegal cool. Many, many fans were confiscated during the get tough period. Now things have relaxed.
Until the GSA policy on no-fans is revised to conform with the DOE policy of many-fans, personal fans still are technically illegal in government offices. They may remain illegal if used to reduce temperatures below the White House-designated 78 degree level.
Officials anticipate that fans will be legalized this week, and people in government can take them out of their plain brown wrappers and put them out where they will do some good.